Theses Doctoral

Gender Gap in Mathematics Achievement in Brazil: Teachers’ Implicit Gender Bias

Levin, Beatriz Susana

The goal of this study was to investigate whether mathematics teachers in Brazil had implicit gender biases, and if that potential bias was related to students' confidence and interest. The literature shows that there is a significant gender gap in mathematics achievement favoring boys, and Brazil is a special case in that it has one of the largest divergences in the world. This study investigated whether mathematics teachers in Brazil had implicit gender biases, if that bias was related to their students' confidence and interest in mathematics, and in what ways teachers' bias could be observed in conversations about teaching.
For this study I surveyed 40 teachers, along with the students in one of each instructor’s mathematics classes. Teachers were asked to respond to a demographic questionnaire and implicit association test (IAT), while students were asked to respond to a questionnaire measuring their self-assessed confidence and interest in mathematics. At a later date, 10 teachers were selected to be interviewed, based on their IAT scores.

The results show that mathematics teachers in Brazil had implicit gender biases regarding mathematics, but that their respective biases varied significantly. Male teachers were significantly biased in favor of boys, while female teachers were not. Teachers' implicit biases also varied depending on their educational levels. Students' confidence and interest in mathematics were shown not to be related to their teacher's measure of bias. However, confidence and interest did vary based on whether students attended public or private schools – with private schools having a significantly larger gender gap in both of these factors, and students' grade -- with the gap being wider among older students. Students' interest in mathematics also proved to be related to teachers' educational level, but their confidence in mathematics was not.

Teachers in Brazil believe overall that girls and boys behave differently from each other in school; furthermore, they believe that these differences are due to societal and parental pressures and expectations regarding gender. Teachers who associated mathematics with boys did not appear to be aware of that implicit bias, and in conversation often referred to gender differences in a way that indicated they thought girls had advantages in school that boys did not.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics Education
Thesis Advisors
Wasserman, Nicholas
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 12, 2019